Shaqira Ramli and her husband initially started selling handcrafted tapestries from India in bazaars in West Malaysia and later held tie dye workshops under their Bohomys brand.
But because of the pandemic, their business, which depended on personal interactions, had to be shut down. To make matters worse, on the day the first MCO was announced, they lost nearly RM 20,000 due to cancellations for their workshops.
“The pandemic hit us hard and I was briefly lost. But I knew I had two children who needed me and I had to work hard for them, ”Shaqira recalls.
“It was devastating because that same year we decided to do this all day and do a workshop for the Langkawi Art Biennale.”
Art has always been her calling
Before Bohomys, Shaqira worked in the event industry, which she found very stressful and demanding. “I was pregnant with my first baby when I decided to quit my job because I had really bad morning sickness and couldn’t concentrate on my work,” she recalls.
As she left the stress behind her event career, Shaqira felt that it only made sense to return to what she loved most – art. Although they first sold handmade art by others, Shaqira and her husband later found a niche they were passionate about by making and teaching others about natural batik colors.
Convey the batik wisdom to the fans / Image source: Bohomys
“From the beginning it was always a two-man show. My husband supports the heavy work and I am the artist. We are currently at home in Putra Heights, Selangor. ”
“We were very active in bazaars, especially in Penang. Sometime in 2017 a friend of mine who is the organizer of Lokalhouz in Penang asked if we could teach at the Butterworth Fringe Festival in conjunction with the Georgetown Festival. I said yes without hesitation, ”Shaqira pointed out to some memorable moments in her art career.
Make good use of old connections
Bohomys’ pivot began in July 2020 when Shaqira and her husband decided to sell their natural batik colors as products. Before that, they only taught and sold natural paint sets.
What’s in their ready-to-use natural dye kits / Image source: Bohomys
Having previously worked in the events industry, Shaqira was aware that event gifts (small gifts at events) tend to have a short lifespan. They were cheap but also had little use before they were thrown away.
Knowing that they could offer event organizers something more effective, Syaqira and her husband started reaching out to them to showcase their natural batik products. They managed to land their first order (tote bags, company shirts, and masks) shortly after their pivot and realized they would need more tailors.
Excerpts from her art process / Photo credit: Bohomys
“When we started doing event favors, we found that while people were getting more jobs, they were also losing jobs and sales. So we met with a local youth dressmaker and hired her to sew our products after we dyed our fabrics, ”Shaqira said, adding that many youngsters like her have so much potential but are not trained.
With that hiring, Shaqira decided to start part of their Pivot today, a social enterprise that empowers and educates young people to earn better through their Upskill, Create and Earn program that started in September 2020.
Further education of the youth through natural batik
Since their pivot, the program has added two people to the team: the aforementioned tailor and another local. You have one other person on the team who helps with the dyeing but is not actively involved in the training.
“We see ourselves as a bridge for these young people to discover markets that they would never have thought possible before. We want to prove that even small tailors can sell to the upscale markets, which actually happened during our public bazaar in May, ”Shaqira told Vulcan Post.
Syafiqah and Mahfuzah, the young people in the Bohomys teaching / Image source: Bohomys
Some of the plans they have to train these youngsters include exporting their work abroad, finding ways they can work with MATRADE, as well as introducing them to larger markets in general.
However, the youngsters are not required to work with them full-time and still run their own small tailoring businesses.
“At the moment we are concentrating on young people from the nearby town village near us. We believe that only those who want to change can benefit the most from this project. So we have to prove to them that it works, ”said Syaqira.
They were no longer able to take tailors on board due to MCO restrictions, but she announced that the two tailors have seen income grow 30% and earn around 200 to 500 RM per month since working with Bohomys. Granted, the MCO cut its income a little.
Find a variety of dyes in nature / Image source: Bohomys
Staying happy despite the fighting
Since the first MCO, Shaqira has struggled with price increases and was sometimes unable to source some supplies, and she said her fabric supplier has not been able to open her store for a while.
Processing of natural dyes in our daily fits / Image source: Bohomys
This limits them to only being able to produce bags, t-shirts, masks and scarves in the meantime, but as soon as their fabric supplier is back to work they will consider introducing more clothing.
“We are currently in talks with some parties who support our program and would like to open a community skill center in Kampung Kuala Sungai Baru, Puchong, where young people can learn not only tailoring, but many more for free. This helps them to to earn better right after the MCO ”, she shared her future plans.
A glimpse into the good old days / Photo credit: Bohomys
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At times like these, you don’t always hear of going from a for-profit company to a social enterprise, considering how many SMEs are trying to maximize their small profits.
While upskilling and hiring teenagers for their business to accelerate production is one solution to managing the pandemic, one downside is still the personal limitation they face given the nature of their business.
We don’t have surefire solutions, but maybe there are ways Bohomys can digitize the program to reach more teenagers and find other ways to offer their batik products to customers.
- You can learn more about bohomys Here.
- You can read more about social businesses we covered Here.
Photo credit: Shaqira Ramli, founder of Bohomys